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Part II: How is Empathy the Key to Breaking the Cycle of Addiction?

Addiction to drugs, alcohol, smoking, vaping or juuling negatively influences the life of the addict and their family. Getting addicted at a young age in school can completely destroy the life of a child. It leads to stunted emotional and social growth because whenever they face a challenge. Their addiction becomes their refuge. So, they never develop the skills to process their emotions in a healthy manner. That just takes them further down the rabbit hole. One of the most critical skills to break the cycle of addiction is empathy.

Addicts & Empathy

Addiction can completely change an individual. Addicts may resort to stealing or lying to get what they want. This dishonesty ruins relationships because of the loss of trust. Kids addicted to a substance will find it difficult to look farther than their need to get high. Drugs, alcohol, smoking and vaping take control of the life of the child, and they do not show any kind of empathy towards how people around them are feeling or what they are going through.

It may be their need to fit into a peer group, deal with a problem, or loss of control, addiction compromises their decision-making skills. One poor decision after another is what makes the situation worse. Building empathy in such a child can help them see a little better and re-instill the power to make good decisions. This can be for the sake of their own future or for the sake of those they love.

Nipping in the Bud

Parents and teachers have to help their students learn this skill. Developing empathy early on helps students stay away from self-destructive behavior. A habit like vaping or juuling that is trendy may not appear harmless at first. But, a Juul cartridge comes with around 200 puffs, which is equivalent to the nicotine found in an entire pack of cigarettes. With this skill, they will learn to love themselves and work towards a future rather than falling into the trap of trends.

Empathy helps them to understand how substance abuse will affect their life and the life of others around them. Whether they come across pressure or stressful situations in their lifetime, empathy will help them see the bigger picture and make better decisions.

Developing this skill will help them from falling into a cycle of addiction in the first place.

Research Supports the Claim

American Journal of Addictions published a study in 2009 that empathy-quotient was higher in members of the control group who were not dependent on alcohol. However, the empathy-quotient went down for participants who were dependent on alcohol. Empathy for self and others is a contributing factor to addiction. There is plenty of more research that draws correlations between empathy and healthy child development.

Moving Forward

Parents and teachers have to proactively work to develop empathy in kids from a young age. Parents can do it by practicing themselves. Kids will learn this skill by watching them. Schools and teachers can help their students learn empathy through targeted programs like SEL Adventures.

The Addiction Prevention Program from SEL Adventures understands the importance of teaching empathy to young students. It teaches them about the concept of empathy, how they can apply it in their life, and the importance of assertive communication. Apart from this, there are many other lessons in the program, including self-awareness, resistance to peer pressure, future planning, responsible decision making, and learning emotion display.

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What are the Factors that Encourage Addiction Among Students?

It is common to find news pieces, blog articles, Facebook posts, and more detailing stories of young school students falling into the trap of substance abuse. Students, their parents and people close to them are coming forward to share stories of how addiction has completely destroyed their lives. They want to get their story out so that other children do not fall into the same cycle of self-destruction. There is enough help available today that can help students with their addictions. However, what are the factors that encourage addiction among certain students? Let’s find out.

Family History

Predisposition to addiction does not mean that a child will become addicted at some point, a family history only increases the probability of addiction. Such students may be more vulnerable to turn to an addictive substance when faced with a stressful situation.

Psychological Issues

Mental illness is not limited by age. At a young age, when kids do not completely understand mental health, problems like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorders and others can be even scarier. In an attempt to cope with these issues, they may turn to substance abuse. It falls in the hands of adults around them to identify such problems, get proper treatment and help their situation.

Biochemical Makeup

Research has shown that different people react to alcohol differently depending on their metabolism. Enzymes are involved in the breakdown of alcohol and its elimination from the body. Some children may have enzymes that make them more susceptible to alcohol addiction. That is the reason some people may drink more and not feel intoxicated, while others may get addicted even with a small amount.

Academic & Peer Pressure

School is a place for children to thrive, but it can become the stressor if they do not understand how to deal with the situations they face. Some students may not be able to cope up with the academic pressures of the school. This can have many reasons. The teacher’s pedagogy may not work for them, lack of focus, or something else. Then, there are peer groups in school that may put pressure on them to dress, walk, and talk in a certain way. Often times, use of alcohols and drugs can come from giving into these pressures or as a mechanism to deal with them.

Improving the School Environment

A positive school environment helps students focus on their academic performance and overall development. Attitude of teachers, interpersonal relationships of the students, general administration, and more contribute towards the environment of a school. The curriculum and what it emphasizes on also has a bearing on the school environment. Teaching and focusing on social-emotional skills help in improving the school environment and gives students the tools to stay away from addictions.

Schools can use structured curricula like SEL Adventures that have designed dedicated program for addiction prevention. It includes lessons on self-awareness, resisting peer pressure, learning to empathize and display emotions, decision making and future planning. It prepares the students and helps reduce the probability of the students falling into an addiction trap.

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Social-Emotional Learning is Vital for All Students to Prevent Addiction

Many people see addiction, either to drugs or alcohol, as something that only happens to the “troubled” students. However, the statistics speak otherwise.

E-cigarette users in middle schools and high schools increased from 1.5 million between 2017 and 2018. Over 20 million Americans over the age of 12 are addicted to drugs or alcohol. Over 90 percent of that 20 million began drinking, smoking, or using drugs before they turned 18.

But why?

Most addictions can be traced back to peer pressure, stress, and depression. For instance, Vaping is considered ‘cool’ by teenagers, who get addicted to smoking early on and later find it hard to quit. It can also be attributed to the easy availability of various substances. Juul, a type of e-cigarette comes in discreet forms that are hardly recognizable. So, students can easily indulge in juuling whenever they want.

Banning these substances may not be the best idea. It is important to communicate with the students in a manner they understand. Social-emotional learning, therefore, becomes an important lesson to focus on with middle schoolers. This is the age where they’re most likely to try alcohol or drugs for the first time. Delaying this and showing them that there are healthier ways to deal with their anger or depression can prevent them from gaining addictions later on in life.

SEL Adventures is an SEL platform that allows students to learn the various aspects of social-emotional learning. It’s presented to the classroom as a whole to ensure that every student benefits from the material being presented. More so, the material is presented in a variety of ways so that students don’t feel as though they’re being lectured.

Through the use of fantasy characters and fun curriculums, students learn how to make more positive decisions, form healthier relationships, and develop empathy for one another. As a result, they’re less likely to be peer pressured into trying drugs or turn to alcohol as a way to deal with their problems.

Particularly when you look at how the statistics show that Americans often begin making decisions that lead to addictions starting at 12 or over, it’s clear that social-emotional learning has to be introduced in middle school. SEL Adventures offers versatile lesson plans that allow schools to incorporate the lessons as needed. They can be adapted to fit the existing curriculum. Further, the online platform makes it possible to introduce the material without developing new lesson plans. It’s all created already, which makes it possible for the teachers to follow along.

Students need some kind of support to learn about addiction prevention methods. Simply telling kids “don’t do drugs” isn’t going to cut it. They need to learn about healthy ways to deal with stress. They need to know how to establish healthy relationships.

Addiction statistics aren’t improving. One hundred people die from drug overdoses every day, which is a rate that has tripled in the past two decades. With social-emotional learning, such as what SEL Adventures offers, it’s possible to start decreasing those rates once and for all.